Nikon D40 Hands-on

DSLRs take sharper stills, but their price, size and overflow of features tend to scare Average Joes back to the compacts. The 6-megapixel D40, Nikon’s training wheel DSLR, tries its best to cut back on the scare factor, hopefully easing people into a lifetime of dropping Benjamins on pricey lenses. It hits shelves in December, but we’ve been playing around with it for a few days. See our thoughts and some nice camera-porn shots of it undressed after the jump…

The $600 body/lens kit price tag is reasonable, considering that most decent compact cams these days hover around $400, and is coincidentally how much cash you might find laying around when you show up at your local Best Buy and find the PS3 shelf cleaned out. The included lens is a 3x-zoom 18-55mm and, even though the target audience has likely never purchased a lens, it’ll work with all of Nikon’s existing AF-S and AF-I lenses.

As for size, the thing is tiny, at least compared to most DSLRs. It won’t fit into anyone’s pocket, unless they happen to be a kangaroo or clown, but it clocks in at 5.3″x2.5×3.7″, which is a significant shrinkage over its older brother D50’s 5.2″x4″x3″. The LCD is a reasonably bright 2.5-incher.

As for easing newbies into DSLR features, this is where the D40 really tries to separate itself from the pack. In order to introduce you to the slew of controls at their fingers, tiny visual representations show visual examples of when each setting choice is tops. For example, when you flip through the ISO settings, a tiny picture of an dark room sits next to high ISO selection, while a sunny landscape lies next to a low one. You may not even know what ISO means, but you can you figure out what setting is best. To test this feature out, I gave the camera to my Luddite mother while I was home for the holidays. Within minutes, she was picking settings and taking decent pictures of her dogs (as mothers are wont to do). As they say: You can take a man to Sears and he’ll walk out with a nice picture, or you can teach a man to shoot, and he’ll create nice photos for life.

Each ISO setting has a corresponding image to describe the scene.

The bottom line: the D40 is a fine first DSLR. It likely won’t satisfy pros, but if all you’ve ever used is a PowerShot or a CoolPix, its an easy way to move up to something with a little more juice.